Credit Nightflyer, a group of veteran musicians who hail from Southwestern Ohio, for finding the ideal compromise between that which is classic and contemporary. Taking their name from a Tony Rice song, the band — lead singer and guitarist Richard Propps, mandolin player and vocalist Rick Hayes, stand-up bassist and vocalist Tony Kakaris, Tim Jackson on dobro and occasional vocals, and banjo player and singer Ronnie Stewart — are adept at combining bluegrass, roots music, Gospel and newgrass to create a sound that’s consistently affable and accessible.
It follows then that the dozen songs that encompass their latest release, Flight on Pinecastle Records, are culled from a variety of outside sources. The best known entry overall is a stirring send-up of the classic country trucker song, Six Days on the Road, rendered so adeptly that this oft-covered standard takes on a verve and vitality that transforms the tune entirely. Send My Body Home On a Freight Train, Randy Travis’ expressive narrative about a convicted man’s final request on the eve of his execution, is given a decidedly upbeat delivery. Likewise, Jerry Reed’s rugged Guitar Man is transformed in a way that serves a similarly personal purpose.
Although Nightflyer’s fluent apprpach mostly maintains its unerring energy throughout this twelve song set, there are more measured moments as well. The spiritual inferences of Satan’s Jewel Crown and Hank Williams’ A House of Gold temper, if only momentarily, the album’s general sense of celebration. However the most sobering focus falls on Only God Knows My Name, a wholly heartbreaking narrative about a Southern Civil War veteran returning from the war, who’s shot by a sniper and left to die alone and unnoticed in a field far from home. The tragedy of that outcome isn’t easily ignored.
Mostly though, it’s the energy and enthusiasm that holds sway. “Not even dying can stop me now,” they insist on the song of the same name, asserting sheer determination in the process. And by the time they reach the album’s final entry, River Don’t Run Dry, it’s clear that any chance of stagnation is virtually nil. After all, Nightflyer prove that once they take Flight, they’re not going to be grounded. This is a band that literally seems to soar.